I just read in Samuel Eliot Morison's "The Oxford History of the
American People" a statement by Lincoln who said that he had the same
dream of victory "before Antietam, Murfreesboro, Vicksburg, and
Wilmington. Matter-of-fact Grant remarked that Murfreesboro was no
victory; a few such fights would have ruined us."
I find this a strange assertion from Grant who, in his memoirs stated,
concerning Shiloh, "The result was a Union victory that gave the men
who achieved it great confidence in themselves ever after."
At Shiloh, Grant was somewhat outnumbered the first day, but the Union
troops heavily outnumbered the Confederates on the second. At
Murfreesboro, Rosecrans somewhat outnumbered Bragg's forces throughout
the battle. Both Union commanders remained on the field of battle
when the fighting was over. Strategically, both battles had the
similar effects of repulsing a Confederate advance.
Why would Grant, attending a cabinet meeting with the president,
contradict Lincoln in such a way? The two battles seem generally
equivalent--close enough that calling one a victory and one not is
highly questionable. He certainly didn't hold Rosecrans in high
regard. But was he also trying to enhance his own image at the
expense of others? Grant's statement that "a few such fights would
have ruined us", moreover, is ridiculous. The master of attrition
didn't feel that way when he nearly bled the Army of the Potomac dry
while advancing toward Richmond.
Although the figures below on available troops and casualties for the
two sides come from the web and differ from other numbers which I have
seen, they give an indication of the comparable losses for the various
Avail. troops Casualties
Battle USA CSA USA CSA
Shiloh 63,000 40,000 13,047 10,694
Murfreesboro 43,000 37,000 11,577 9,865
Wilderness 102,000 61,000 18,400 11,400
Spotsylvania 100,000 52,000 18,000 12,000
Cold Harbor 108,000 62,000 12,000 2,500
Petersburg 64,000 42,000 8,150 2,970
I will give Grant credit, where credit is due, for the wrap-up of the
Vicksburg campaign. Much of the rest of his Civil War career was not
nearly so successful; his great reputation appears to be quite
dependent upon exaggerations and mistruths made by him and his
defenders. They should be recognized for what they are.